|Jaleos are the archetypal shouts of encouragement during Flamenco performances - Olé, Hassah, or rapidly shared excited commentary, proffered by the hand clappers, foot stompers, dancers or other musicians when a particular soloist does something exceptionally memorable or inspired. Jaleo is also the title of today's CD, thus indicating that the entire performance is meant as one loud shout of encouragement and appreciation, for Flamenco as an art form per se. And that's indeed the case. The well-known origin of the Gipsies in Rajasthan -- migrating to Europe and, in turn, settling at various outposts along this route to become Roms, Tziganes, Gippos, Persians, Egyptians, Moors, Gitanos, Sinti, Manouche, Zigeuner and Andalucians -- serves as the inspiration for Louis Winsberg's homage to all things Gipsy.
Born in the South of France near Avignon and growing up embedded in the milieu of night-long Gipsy juergas, Winsberg who plays electrical, acoustical and Flamenco guitars, electric sitar, bouzouq, mandolin, oud, rebab and E-bow, surrounds himself with a very strong cadre of supporters. There's Jean-Baptise Marino on traditional Flamenco guitar; Nanda Kumar on tabla, Indian percussion and vocals; Jose Montealegre on Cante Jondo lead vocals; Norbert Lucarain on vibraphone, marimba, percussion, Jews harp and background vocals; Jean-Christophe Maillard on synthesizers, saz, steel guitar and backgound vocals; Isabel Pelaez on lead/background vocals, dance and palmas; and Miguel Sanchez on cajon, percussion and palmas.
There's no suitable precedent for Jaleo's well-balanced modernity that over and over recalls Metheny-esque language, especially from Secret Story, weaving Pat's trademark Jazz idiom, electronic guitar signatures and use of the human voice as instrumental accents into authentic, non-derivative Flamenco. The Arabian influences have previously been explored on Pascal Gallo's Emma; Jazz hybrids single out those by Gerardo Nuñez, Tomatito and pianist Diego Amador as the most successful; but nobody has attempted and pulled off taking Flamenco this far off the beaten track without in the least way diminishing, diluting or estranging its essential Flamenco nature.
Just consider the Anant Jesse-reminiscent Mantrica chorus that sings ancient Sanskrit mantas in overlayed harmonies with diminished sevenths, ninths and adventurously chromatic progressions on "Ragalegria". Or how perfectly electric sitar, vibraphone and tablas compliment the traditional cajon and Spanish guitar. How Flamenco puro singing in parallel with Indian voice percussion and vocal Jazz riffs adds rather than subtracts, going beyond even Amalgama's groundbreaking Encuentro [Nuba 7702] that juxtaposed full Karnathik and Flamenco ensembles in 1995.
It's self-fulfilling to cite Flamenco's penchant for absorbing contemporary influences, making them over and thus appropriating them. But no Flamenco release in the last five years has cast its net quite as far, managed to pull in this many apparently disparate influences only to prove them perfectly matched, first by being thoroughly grounded in the tradition to the very marrow, then opening the doors to the fully embodied temple for strangers to enter and offer their treasures.
The most impressive and truly unprecedented aspect of all this? The dimension of depth and profundity that permeates the entire venture to be married to extreme modernity. There's no Ketama-esque Pop superficiality; no black/white contrast between styles like on Jazzpaña or Thierry Robin's Rakhî; no smart but easy-listening flavor of Eric Fernandez' Magic Gipsy. Curandero's clever exploits are to Jaleo what a string quartet is to a symphony orchestra. The closest parallels, perhaps, are to be found in what Al diMeola has done for Tango in The Grande Passion - a thorough yet respectful, imaginative yet grounded, creative yet logical reinterpration and thus rediscovery of the core syntax of his chosen musical subject. Juan Manual Cañizares comes to mind as well in the Flamenco domain, especially with certain visionary cuts on Noches de Imán y Luna.
What else to say that would manage to prepare you for the truly unique, compelling invitation of Jaleo? It's like a preview of what Flamenco is destined to become. It's Pat Metheny emerging from the sacred caves of Sacromonte - if he had grown up in the Gipsy barrios to do so believably. How to follow up Jaleo is anyone's guess - but there's so much creativity and inventiveness on tap that one feels fairly assured that Winsberg and co-conspirators possess plenty more where that came from. Two hats off, if that's possible - but the innate impossibility of this album provokes such grande gestures!